Michigan has a new plan for water protection, introduced by Governor Jennifer Granholm in a letter to the legislature in January, but early indications warn of turbulent waters ahead.
Some Recent History
The unveiling of this plan came shortly after the Granholm administration’s decision to support a “stay” of a Mecosta County judge’s ruling in favor of a GLAHNF funded group, Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation (MCWC), which would have forced the Nestle Corporation to cease water pumping operations at its Ice Mountain water bottling plant.The Appeals court agreed with Nestle and the Granholm administration, granting the stay and allowing the company to continue pumping during the appeals process. Michigan’s environmental community was extremely disappointed with Granholm’s decision to support a stay of the ruling, and called on the governor to quickly introduce much needed groundwater withdrawal legislation.
An Ambitious Plan Unveiled
In the January 20th letter to the Legislature, Granholm outlined a plan for protecting water that included legislation to regulate groundwater withdrawals in the state.The Michigan Water Legacy Act, which was introduced in March of this year, is unfortunately almost 20 years overdue. In 1985 Governor Blanchard, along with the other seven Great Lakes Governors and two Canadian Premiers, signed the Great Lakes Charter. The Charter requires, among other things, that all signatories manage water withdrawals over two million gallons per day in their state or province. Michigan is currently the only state that has not followed through on this agreement. The Michigan Water Legacy Act is intended to fill this gap by providing a clear regulatory structure for groundwater withdrawals. Details of the proposed legislation have been guarded with tight lips thus far, and many groups in the state that have experience with groundwater disputes, such as MCWC, are eager to weigh in on the legislation.
In addition to the proposed Michigan Water Legacy Act, Granholm is urging the Michigan Attorney General to pursue legal avenues to require that the Environmental Protection Agency regulate ballast water from ships in the Great Lakes to help control aquatic invasive species. She has signed an Executive Directive prohibiting state agencies from approving the open water disposal of contaminated dredge materials in Michigan waters, and plans to sign an Executive Directive to protect isolated wetlands on state-owned lands. The governor has also asked the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to fill the gap regarding a sanitary code for septic systems – Michigan being the only state without such a code. From a Great Lakes Basin-wide perspective, Governor Granholm has called on President Bush to support Great Lakes Ecosystem Restoration bills currently in congress.
A final water protection initiative that has recently met significant political hurdles is a plan to fund the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System through a system of fees for those organizations (primarily industry, agriculture, and municipalities) requiring a permit. Currently the tab for this program is picked up by Michigan taxpayers. After fees had already been agreed upon in the DEQ’s fiscal year 2004 budget that began in October, the enabling legislation became stuck in a House / Senate conference committee until early February. The legislation that was finally approved by the conference committee and later by both the House and Senate contained a deal breaking measure that required the DEQ to receive prior permission from the Legislature before creating any administrative rules. This provision essentially ignores the separate roles of the legislative and executive branches, and definitely prevents the department from doing its job. Governor Granholm has labeled this a “power grab” and will likely veto the bill; meanwhile, Michigan’s water continues to be polluted free of charge.
Turbulent Waters Ahead?
If the above situation provides any indication, there may be more political games ahead that block real progress. The tireless advocacy efforts of Michigan’s grassroots environmental groups are invaluable in helping to move beyond political games and toward lasting, sensible policies that protect water and aquatic habitats in the state.